Sold on PR

PR is increasingly becoming a key cog in the sales process.

PR is increasingly becoming a key cog in the sales process.

As commercial marketing manager for Orkin, Cam Glover knows how valuable it is for his sales process to have satisfied customers talking about good experiences with the pest-control company.

The trouble is, the nature of what Orkin does - ridding places of bugs, mice, and other unwanted creatures - had always made it difficult for him to get customers to agree to become case studies. After all, no food processing plant manager wants people to know his or her facility once had a bug problem. "I think we had one case study in four years," Glover recalls.

But that was before Glover started having PR and sales work more closely together. Last year, Jackson Spalding, the PR firm that works on the Orkin commercial business, suggested starting an awards program for Orkin's best business customers.

The Gold Medal IPM (Integrated Pest Management) Partner Awards, in recognizing customers who have followed Orkin recommendations on how to prevent future pest problems, are designed to aid in customer retention, explains Randall Kirsch, the account executive who heads up the Orkin team at Jackson Spalding. But they also get trade press attention and have helped create new case studies of last year's four winners that Orkin can now use to attract other customers.

Already, Orkin sales people are contacting sister facilities owned by the winners' companies suggesting they too could benefit from working with Orkin. "It really creates sales opportunities where there were none before," Kirsch says.

Mutual benefits

Creating more business opportunities is exactly what PR and sales working together is all about. While some companies continue to compartmentalize sales and PR staffs with little interaction between them, "there's a group of companies who understand how important it is to align sales and marketing," says Catherine Marenghi, principal with Marenghi PR in Westwood, MA, whose firm works with clients to bring the areas together. "Visionary companies realize that marketing and PR really exist to support sales."

When PR works closely with sales, "PR people are really going to understand what the market is saying. You get the most accurate assessment of what your company's value proposition is," Marenghi says.

What sales gets from effectively working with PR is solid sales leads and added standing when talking to customers and potential customers. "What PR brings to the table is a degree of credibility," says Glover.

Sales and PR cooperation extends far beyond PR forwarding press releases to sales people, as the Orkin example shows. Other companies too are finding ways that PR can become involved in customer education, conferences, and recognition efforts that translate into sales opportunities.

Syngenta Professional Products deals in offerings that help grow lawns and flowers, marketing to golf courses and ornamental flower producers. It wants to be thought of as an expert on issues such as product safety and environmental topics that matter to its customers, explains David French, an account supervisor at Trone PR, Syngenta's High Point, NC-based PR and marketing agency. So in the ornamental plants area, PR has created a series called Lectures in Bloom.

Held three or four times a year, the lectures bring in industry experts to discuss the latest research on a range of topics of interest to Syngenta customers. "It's designed to keep ornamental growers at the top of their game," French says.

But the lectures also convey the message that buying from Syngenta means growers are getting access to a wealth of information vital to them doing their jobs well. Being invited also affords them a feeling of recognition by Syngenta.

"They feel so special that they were selected to attend and to learn," says Margaret McLean, senior communications manager with Syngenta Professional Products. Some invitees have driven four to five hours for a Lectures in Bloom session, she notes.

At Syngenta, "PR doesn't sit in a vacuum, it sits among an entire marketing strategy," says Joe DiPaola, golf market manager with Syngenta Professional Products.

Speaking of the golf-course business he deals with, DiPaola says, "It's important for the customer base we have to appreciate the resources we bring to the marketplace. The rings of value afforded around the basic product in the box is very important to us."

DiPaola also uses meetings to connect with his customers. PR works on an event called the GreenCarpet Premiere at an annual golf industry show to which it invites industry leaders and Syngenta's best customers. At this year's show in February, Syngenta featured Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly.

"It's meant to be an entertaining evening, but it creates a venue for these people to be in the same room together," French says.

Common goals

Some organizations have taken the notion of PR and sales working together to an extreme - having both report to the same person.

In 2000, the Meriwest Credit Union in San Jose, CA, faced a major marketing and sales challenge. It had been known to that point as the IBM Pacific Employees Credit Union, open only to IBM employees in the area. When it decided to expand its eligible membership base beyond IBM employees, it needed a new name and a new image.

It sought to attract both individual members and businesses who would offer it as a benefit to their employees, explains David Grandey, Meriwest's corporate communications director.

Grandey had worked for a PR firm the credit union hired to help in its transformation. He was soon hired by the credit union to oversee PR and business development.

"There are a lot of synergies and intersecting venues these two participate in," explains Julie Kirsch, COO and EVP at the credit union. "The goals now are shared goals. We really are all PR folks and we really are all business development folks."

The credit union uses its annual report as a sales tool, showing it to corporate HR directors and customers to demonstrate the benefits the credit union can provide, explains Grandey.

PR also crafts messages for the credit union's five sales people and works with sales on community events held in branches. Grandey has his PR people spend time working in the credit union's offices and phone center to get a feel for what customers are saying about the organization. He also makes sure Meriwest is part of local events such as home, garden, and auto shows, establishing bonds with the community.

Direct sales impact

The ultimate goal of sales and PR working together, he says, is of course to increase company sales. Keeping track of where sales leads come from can show the value of sales and PR cooperating.

At software maker Avalara, "the goals we've laid out for PR are linked directly to my job as VP of sales," says Avalara's VP of sales Marshal Kushniruk. He spends between 12% and 15% of his marketing budget on PR, working with Barnett Marketing Communications in Las Vegas.

Ned Barnett, head of the firm, sits in on sales meetings and also measures responses from customers and potential customers to press releases on Avalara products. Company sales managers are asked to note where new customers heard about the company, helping measure PR's impact.

Barnett has just created a new program to send releases directly to customers, segmenting them by the computing platforms on which they use Avalara products. He's also trained regional sales managers to serve as media contacts at trade shows - showing them how to distribute press kits and how to prepare for press inquiries.

At Atomz, a San Francisco company that makes website software, sales reps that don't put the source of a lead in their reports don't get paid for a sale, says Jeff Goodman, VP of sales.

"We definitely have gotten very quantifiable leads out of PR," says Goodman. He works with Shift Communications, a San Francisco agency. Shift has helped collect case studies that sales reps can use to close sales, Goodman says.

Customers are more likely to be open with PR about their thoughts on the company than they are with Atomz sales people. "PR has done a really good job of getting information out of customers we weren't getting before," Goodman says.

Says Shift principal Todd Defren, "The message we gave Atomz is that reputation drives sales. You have to focus on getting your client more revenue."

The bottom line is really the bottom line when it comes to sales and PR working together. The more ways they can find to do that - to include conferences, community outreach, and reputation building activities - the better the results will be.


Scratching each others' backs

What PR gets from sales

1. An understanding of customer needs and interests, which can help in pitching story ideas to the media.

2. Insight into how customers see the company's value proposition.

3. Leads for case studies and customers willing to talk to the media positively about the product/service.

4. Insight into the company's sales processes so PR can be more focused and targeted to specific sales drives or regional efforts.

5. Bottom-line credibility if sales can track how many leads and deals resulted from PR efforts.

What sales gets from PR

1. Added credibility for and excitement about the company, thanks to positive media coverage.

2. Increased leads generated by media coverage, website traffic, and company events organized by the PR team.

3. Selling opportunities - such as meetings, seminars, and conferences - the PR team puts on to bring customers and sales together.

4. Intelligence on what customers think of the sales process.

5. White papers and other collateral that can be used as sales tools.

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